Strategies for PMO departments

Portfolio Management, Programme Management, Change Management, Delivery Management

Many people think that the job of the PMO is to manage projects and programmes. It isn’t – it is about orchestration.

Management of work, individual staff and tasks is best done locally within each team because they have a grasp of the detail and circumstances that needed to make daily judgements.

Where a PMO comes in is providing support to projects, helping to coordinate dependencies between them, monitoring and collating outcome measures and ensuring everyone talks with each other and knows the big picture. Micro-managing tasks is the wrong path.


Control & Reporting

It is a fallacy of the modern workplace that people equate control with reports, standardisation and process.

These are all weak proxies for true control.

Most reports are not read. Most standards are not followed and most processes don’t match what really happens on the ground.

Real control is about ensuring maximum visibility of each team’s work through visualising work in the team space, tracking a few simple common measures and providing these every week to the PMO.

Planning & Prediction

As Eisenhower said, planning is everything and plans are nothing. Complex Gantt charts that track every day for every person and need a Microsoft Project expert are the curse of PMOs worldwide.

Planning needs to be a high-level: key milestones and dependencies only, anything beyond a few weeks ahead is basically unknown and not worth working out.

The best way to produce accurate plans is to work and deliver incrementally using Lean and Agile techniques, so that lightweight plans can be updated and adjusted regularly.


Like risks, what matters with dependencies is a handful of critical ones. The key to working with dependencies is to reduce them – making the problem smaller is by far the best use of effort.

Attempting to track every small dependency is folly because it quickly becomes unmanageable and too much for anyone to grasp or handle.

Especially at the Portfolio level, detail is not answer – the business needs to understand the few critical dependencies, dates and best few options to deal with them.

It should always be possible to summarise these in a single page even for a large organisation.

Process & Standardisation

The biggest mistake people make is to standardise method. Standardising the details of how people work automatically prevents change, adaptation and improvement.

Instead of standardising method, provide flexible guidance and standardise outcome measures. Then support and help people achieve those measures. It is much cheaper, simpler and more effective.

The ability to respond to a variety of changing demands is essential throughout a business. It is not all about BPM.

Resourcing & Capacity

Many PMOs descend into the folly that is generals moving toy soldiers around the battlefield – better known as resource management.

Trying to manage individual people across a whole programme or portfolio never works.

It isn’t possible and it leads to morale-destroying reassignment of staff as priorities constantly shift into new crises. Coordinate at the team level instead.

Look upon each team as a well-formed unit who are skilled at working together. Keep them together and then give the whole team new priorities. Deal with capacity in the same way – a team at a time.

PMO cannot be the magic glue that somehow makes all departments work together. That’s a recipe for an impotent PMO that achieves nothing.

Collaborative working needs to be built into the corporate culture and then across that the PMO can provide support, expertise, coordination and forecasting services that benefit everyone.

Make it the PMO’s role to support and enable teams to deliver as best they can in a coordinated and joined-up manner.

Let teams and projects work however they wish so long as they:

1) Make their work highly visible

2) Track a small set of standard measures, provided to the PMO weekly

3) Meet weekly with the PMO and other teams to go over the bigger pictures and issues they need help resolving

Developing a detailed strategy will also depend on local circumstances. I’d welcome the opportunity to work with you to define a specific approach to your department.

Posted in Strategy.

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